Leadership and Stories
At different times I have sought counsel and advice from various folks — people who have years of experience across a variety of industries. The best advice has come from people who have distilled their experiences into rich stories about their successes and, importantly their failures.
Story telling is really one of the keystones of great leadership and it can be something that young leaders can practice and get better at.
Why tell stories?
A great story can impart a huge amount of knowledge but does so without being strictly instructive. Stories that include genuine emotion allow the recipients to make connections at a level deeper than the narrative.
Scouts and particularly Scout Leaders are encouraged to learn how to "spin a good yarn". Many of these well-told campfire stories are taken from fables or religious folk-lore. The best stories are shared by leaders from their own experiences; how they survived a sudden flash flood while camping with family, how they were surprised by a tiger snake while hiking, or how they used some bush skills to get out of a dangerous situation. All of these represent genuine examples where the skills Scouts are encouraged to learn are applied in real situations. More often than not, half of the questions are along the lines of, "But how did you feel?", or "What did it feel like when that happened?".
Making emotional connections with people is fundamental to the creation of communities and cohesive workplaces.
Stories are often told in response to a challenge or dilemma that a person might be facing. A great story should acknowledge that those challenges are valid and that person is not alone. A story begins with a great listener, and to show that you have listened and understood before you start to speak is a demonstration of respect and attention to any person who has shared their challenges and concerns with you.
Good stories have trajectories, not just a start, middle and end. Vonnegut described these well in with his shapes of stories. These journeys trace a path that the recipient can pick up and connect with. Each bend, each triumph and downfall can be a familiar landmark when hearing a story.
The connections made and what a person takes away from your stories may not always match those core messages, and that's okay. Since all stories are bound to take on a life of their own, does it matter? Sharing those experiences is beneficial for everybody.
The hidden value
A recent revelation for me is that retelling a story, especially those personal experiences, is another chance to reflect and shape a better understanding of what those events and experiences really meant. What happened, why did it happen that way, why did things turn out the way they did, why did I behave the way I did, what could I have done differently — all of these questions can be bought to bear again in the telling of a story.
The context in which those stories are told can shed new light on those experiences giving them another dimension. Not to mention the passage of time between those events and when you get to re-tell your story.
I have told the stories of the last couple of years of my life to a bunch of close friends. By telling those stories, I have granted myself my successes, and allowed myself to have failed. I have gained myself some highly valuable introspection — without the noise of a Welsh Troll — and felt better.
So, go tell some stories — help others and help yourself.